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Fake heiress Anna Delvey scammed Rachel DeLoache Williams
Rachel DeLoache Williams with Anna Delvey on holiday in MoroccoCourtesy Rachel DeLoache Williams

‘She isn’t capable of remorse’: how fake heiress Anna Delvey scammed me

Conned out of connections and $62k, Rachel DeLoache Williams tells the story of her friendship with the New York grifter in her book My Friend Anna

If you’ve been on the internet in the last two years, you’ll undoubtedly have spent some time immersed in the story of Anna Delvey. The scammer conned her way to the top of New York’s social elite, staying in five star hotels, eating in the most exclusive restaurants in town, and partying with CEOs, artists, and celebrities to secure her own business venture.

After the ‘wannabe socialite’ was exposed in a now-viral New York Magazine article, she was perceived by many as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure whose victims – banks, hotels, rich people – were faceless, capitalist organisations or spoiled trust fund kids that deserved to be scammed. But what about the real people impacted by Delvey’s crimes? In her new book My Friend Anna: The True Story of Anna Delvey, the Fake Heiress of New York City, ex-Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams reveals how she formed a close friendship with the grifter, who ultimately conned her out of $62,000 (£51,081).

“She had this enigmatic charm that made you sort of watch her,” DeLoache Williams tells me, when we meet on a Saturday afternoon in a high-rise that cuts across the London skyline. “I liked being a friend for her.”

DeLoache Williams and Delvey first met at Happy Ending, a New York restaurant, in February 2016 (DeLoache Williams can’t help but laugh at the irony now – “certain parts of the story are so on the nose”). They wouldn’t solidify their friendship until a year later; between February and May 2017, the pair were almost inseparable, meeting nearly every day for lavish meals, $300 (£247) workouts, or 45-minute infrared saunas. 

Delvey regularly paid for the duo’s activities, despite DeLoache Williams’ insistence to pay for herself, flashing her cash as a German heiress with a multi-million dollar trust fund – at least that’s what she claimed. Real name Anna Sorokin, she’s really the daughter of a Russian truck driver – her story began to unravel following a fraught trip to Marrakech. She was on holiday with DeLoache Williams and friends when her bank cards ‘mysteriously’ stopped working. Under pressure from hotel staff, DeLoache Williams was forced to front the bill for the group’s $7,500-per-night (£6,167) luxury riad, as well as flights, restaurant tabs, and a private tour of Yves Saint Laurent’s home. After returning to New York, it became clear Delvey wasn’t going to reimburse the expenses, leaving DeLoache Williams’ in debt that exceeded her yearly salary.

In My Friend Anna, DeLoache Williams tells the distressing story of how she discovered her friend was a fraudster, who now sits behind bars as a convicted criminal. Here, Dazed meets the author to find out what made Delvey so convincing, how it felt to be betrayed, and whether she thinks the scammer regrets what she did.

So many articles about Anna Delvey glamorise her story. Do you hope to change opinions of her with your book?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: There’s this desire, in hindsight, to look at the story and project a saturated version of it, which is a discredit to the reality of events. People think she was this super connected girl who was running with the rich and going to the best parties, but when I knew her, she was mostly just hanging out in her hotel with myself and the staff. A little more pathetic and sad than it may look now.

What did you find so enchanting and convincing about Anna?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: There’s something about sociopaths that lures you in; she had this enigmatic charm that made you sort of watch her. She was also very smart and ambitious – I liked hearing her describe her business plans, and I really appreciated her confidence in trusting me. I liked being a friend for her.

Her behaviour wouldn’t have been out of keeping with other people with money, or just people that you meet in New York. She was eccentric, pan-European, hard to place but believable; she was very good at playing the character she wanted to be, and she told the same story to so many people so anything you didn’t hear directly from her was confirmed by someone else.

Why do you think she did it?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I think she’s Machiavellian. She saw this life on social media that she wanted to emulate – she wanted to be a part of the world that, ironically, she was undermining. I think she just had this drive that was untethered by moral implications.

“She saw this life on social media that she wanted to emulate – she wanted to be a part of the world that, ironically, she was undermining” – Rachel DeLoache Williams

How did it feel to be betrayed by who you thought was a close friend?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: Oh god, it was mind-boggling! It rocked my world. I thought I was someone who was a really good judge of character and I’d tried so hard to believe in this person’s goodness. It was so painful to realise what was really happening, and took me a long time to accept it.

You say in the book: ‘Was she afraid I would leave? Did she want me to need her?’ Was there an element of loneliness in her actions towards you, and a determination to maintain the friendship?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I do think she’s inherently alone as a person because I don’t think she has the ability to feel empathy for others, but in that instance I think it had more to do with control. When I say ‘did she want me to need her?’, I feel more that she wanted to keep me in her collection – I felt very much like a pawn.

Was it a difficult decision to eventually go to the police and participate in her arrest?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I participated in the investigation almost out of a drive to figure out this puzzle that had been racking my brain, but helping with her arrest wasn’t a decision I took lightly. The day before I was really grappling with whether I wanted to incarcerate somebody – I had mixed feelings about it, especially having to be duplicitous after she’d done it to me. It felt so unnatural to me, and I marvelled at how she’d done it for so long and so easily! But ultimately I realised that this is how she made her money, and the fact that she did it to me when I was so nice to her showed me that she would do it to anybody, so I wanted to protect other people.

“The only instance in which I think Anna would be reformed is if it would work for her personal benefit” – Rachel DeLoache Williams

Of course, and she’d done it to Jesse (her friend and private filmmaker) as well. What advice would you give to yourself looking back on the situation, or to someone else worried they’re in the same predicament?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: If you find yourself rationalising someone else’s behaviour, be aware that you’re doing it. When people show you who they are, believe them – I painted this elaborate backstory based on what Anna told me, but a lot of it I made up in my head. (I convinced myself) she grew up in this huge house, isolated, and then I created excuses for her bad manners – ‘no one taught her to be polite’. If you have to do that again and again, then listen to your instincts.

Do you think Anna feels regret about what she did?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I don’t think she’s capable of feeling sincere remorse. She said she regrets the way she went about certain things that actively meant she got caught, but I don’t think she’s sincerely sorry, and she said as much herself in an interview with the New York Times.

Do you have any regrets?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: That’s a good question. It was a terrible thing to go through, but I guess as I say in the preface of the book, I don’t think regret is a productive use of energy. I have certainly learned a lot from this experience, and I’ll feel more aware of myself moving forward.

Could Anna Delvey ever be reformed?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: The only instance in which I think Anna would be reformed is if it would work for her personal benefit. She’s smart, so she may come out and try to do some sort of business endeavour – you know what they say, there are some people in the legitimate business world who are sociopaths and many of them do quite well, so maybe she’ll channel those untethered skills!

Surely it would be difficult for her to get away with anything given she’s the face of fraud?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I read somewhere she’s starting an investment fund in London!

That’s insane.

Rachel DeLoache Williams: That’s an example of how she takes something and flips it upside down, and all you can do is sit there and shake your head. You have to marvel at her audacity – the fact that she’s in jail for fraud and she’s saying ‘I’m going to come out and people should trust me with their money’.

Sadly as we’ve learned with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, people are willing to overlook negative things others have done if they’re influential figures who will get media attention.

Rachel DeLoache Williams: That and because people are frustrated with the system. Many people are frustrated with banks, or hedge funds, or the art world that stereotypically takes itself too seriously; I understand these frustrations but it doesn’t mean that this character is a hero who was trying to bring it all down – she was undermining the systems because she wanted to be a part of them. You really have to look at who you’re championing, not just who you’re frustrated with.

Does what you went through still impact your life now?

Rachel DeLoache Williams: I think I’m coming out of a very dark period. Writing the book was really helpful in terms of revisiting the most painful parts and exploring them fully so I could leave them behind me. It’s also a place where they can live and be remembered so I don’t have to hold it in my head all the time. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK with what happened, but at the same time I don’t think it’s productive to waste any more energy on her. 

This doesn’t get to define me, and I look forward to leaving it in the past. I hope for a time in the near future where she can be a footnote in my story, and not the main event.

My Friend Anna: The True Story of Anna Delvey, the Fake Heiress of New York City, published by Quercus, is out now